Why Eurovision? An Australian at the Song Contest

Why Eurovision? An Australian at the Song Contest

It never ceases to amaze people when they learn that I’m an Australian girl who loves Eurovision. “How does that happen?” is the question that gets asked the most whilst at the event, to the point that on my début visit to the actual event in Moscow 2009 I had journalists lining up to interview me about that very thing.

I have no European heritage as such to draw upon and blame for my love, or knowledge of foreign languages to fuel my need to study such things. The first inkling of an obsession to come featured early in childhood thanks to my fathers’ love of music, he worked as a professional DJ, and the constant 60s and 70s pop blaring from an old Wurlitzer jukebox in our backroom. I was singing along to Sandie Shaw before I ever knew who Michael Jackson was, and I distinctly remember ‘Eres Tu’ getting an airplay flogging in The House of Wright. Dads favourite piece of trivia to announce at club gigs was Abba winning an international song contest with Waterloo in 1974, and the first ever album I owned was the début of Bucks Fizz who I met at a signing in my local shopping centre.

Despite this rich musical heritage I was too young to piece it all together and declare myself a massive Eurovision fan at the tender age of only four. My television diet consisted of Goodies re-runs in the afternoon, and Australia wasn’t screening the contest back then anyway.

My own Eurovision love began truly in 1994 upon channel surfing on a Sunday afternoon in the hope for something entertaining. What I came across was Eurovision commentated by the BBC and Terry Wogan. If memory serves me, I giggled most of the way through the show thanks to his commentary, but what I remember most about that year wasn’t the winner – it was about seeing the interval entertainment – the infamous début of what the world came to know as Riverdance.

I was 16 years old, in the grip of Britpop fever and had I known its UK reputation, would have never thought of watching something considered as naff as this contest. But I will admit this act moved me and made me wish for more. I may have even cried. I was hooked, and Eurovision became an important date on my yearly TV viewing calendar forever more.

I realize there is a difference between watching something yearly, and being a fan however. After all, a rather high percentage of Europeans watch the show, but do they really like it? Do they search the internet on a daily basis for the latest entrant gossip? Would they internet stream an Estonian semi-final? Would they ever consider attending?

My watershed moment of my Eurovision love came in 2000 when my best friend and I,  sitting down to dinner one Sunday night in May, heard ‘My Star’ by Brainstorm for the first time. That was and remains my favourite ever Eurovision song. And in 2003 when Latvia hosted and Renars Kaupers again graced our screens, giving us in my mind, the best staged Eurovision. That’s when I knew I couldn’t just sit and watch it from a small TV screen any longer. It all looked like so much fun and I wanted to be part of the action.

I spent five long years promising myself I would attend one day, making ridiculous deals that if ‘any of the big 4 won/if Latvia won again/if any country in Western Europe I hadn’t previously been to won’ I would attend. I was never in luck. Finally, when I was damn certain that the day would never come and I just had to set a date. Somewhere between ‘Molitva’ and hearing the self-fulfilling prophecy that Dima Bilan would take victory and thus the show to Moscow, I just gave in and started saving.

As we approach 2012, I am planning my fourth trip to the Eurovision Song Contest to be hosted in Baku, and my first trip to Junior Eurovision taking place in Yerevan. If someone told me now that Eurovision was all about the ‘kitsch costumes’ and ‘funny songs’ , I would say they haven’t actually experienced Eurovision.

I know I have Eurovision to blame for my greater understanding of the geography, history, politics and culture of Europe. I think most Australian fans feel like that. How else would we know a million miles from Europe, how to pronounce the capitals of the various Balkan countries? Or that Azerbaijan and Armenia are not friendly neighbours? Its contributed even further to my love of travel – I get to experience a new destination each and every year, many that the average person would never get to visit, and I certainly would never have gone to Latvia if it wasn’t for the fact they made it look so wonderful when they hosted in 2003.

Sharleen goes to Latvia and meets Brainstorm

In a roundabout way, I probably could even blame Eurovision for my current career. The belief that an Australian girl being a senior adviser and salesperson to a specialist Scandinavian and Russian travel company seems almost as far-fetched as being a Eurovision fan to most. On the plus side, having European-based management, my work understand what it is that draws me to one of the worlds biggest events and know better than to expect me to be anywhere else but at Eurovision every May.

Eurovision represents to me a place to celebrate a love of music and of togetherness. It’s a pure credit to the event that it continues to achieve what it set out to do all the way back in 1956 – to bring Europe, and in fact the world, closer together through the medium of song.


8 Responses to “Why Eurovision? An Australian at the Song Contest”

  1. eurovoix says:

    An amazing article, your job sounds brilliant. It’s good to see someone sharing a passion opposite to the normal UK veiws on the contest.

  2. Liam Clark says:

    This pretty much sums up exactly how I feel. With the exception that I was hooked the first time I saw it, in 2003 :D

  3. Seán says:

    Great Article, well done

  4. Jasmin B says:

    I love how into Eurovision many of us Australians are, but I have to confess to feeling like a lonely fan, having never met anyone in real life who a) knows what Eurovision is, or b) knows what it is and likes it. Needless to say my annual ESC parties are a bit sad =(

    Anyway, I agree with everything you said Sharleen, about the contest fuelling a love, knowledge and appreciation for not just European music but culture/language and more. The haters are missing out!!

  5. Christopher Fare says:

    Very good article Sharleen – our stories of how we became interested in Eurovision are fairly similar, in that I don’t have a particularly strong European heritage either but still love the thing to pieces.

    Though in my case, it was Gina G singing for the UK in 1996 that got me started, and after the same “I’m going to go one day!” pull for a few years, I was actually THERE in Riga 2003 and agree that it was the best ESC of the last 15 or so. Certainly Athens and Oslo (my other live contests) just didn’t quite have the same atmosphere.

    Perhaps it’s because we’re Australian that we approach Eurovision without much patriotism or cynicism and actually focus on the great music and grand spectacle – which as you say, is so much more than the silly way it’s often portrayed (even here) in many places.

  6. Chris says:

    Europeans need to be reminded – ESC 1980 is an Australian win – Johnny Logan was an Australian at the time of this Eurovision win – Irish citizenship came later.

    Maybe we need to all meet up in one place next year and have a three days ESC party. Somewhere warm maybe that has good SBS coverage.

  7. Ewan Spence says:

    Well the *good* SBS coverage is on DAB Radio, and streamed online, so how about the coast of the Caspian Sea? :-)

  8. Dara says:

    “I know I have Eurovision to blame for my greater understanding of the geography, history, politics and culture of Europe. I think most Australian fans feel like that.”

    SO TRUE.

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